Y: The Last Man – Brian K. Vaughan’s seminal masterpiece about the last surviving male

In the Autumn of 2002 writer Brian K. Vaughan and artist Pia Guerra collaborated to create Y: The Last Man – a comic about the sudden, worldwide death of every male on the planet except for two: Yorick Brown and his pet monkey Ampersand. Left in a dystopian world populated only by females, Yorick goes on a quest to find his girlfriend Beth DeVille, who was hiking in Australian outback at the time of the incident. With female factions like Daughters of the Amazon intent on harming him, Yorick’s luck turns when he is joined by the highly adept Agent 355, among other companions, on a mission not only to find Beth, but also to find out what caused the death of men.

We take a look back at what is still to this day one of our all time favourite comic books, with a view to strongly recommending it to those who haven’t yet read it. Please be aware that while we have tried to avoid spoilers, there are some points below where we veer into spoiler territory a little, in order to provide a window into this great comic, to entice you to give it a go.

The Man Behind the Near Exctinction of Men

Brian K. Vaughan is no stranger to creating great genre works. Among other things, Vaughan has worked on the TV show LOST (Season 3), he was the showrunner for the TV show adaptation of Under the Dome, and currently he is the writer behind Saga, which is an immensely successful SF comic that has a strong theme of family (try it if you haven’t – you won’t regret it).

MORE: Looking back at LOST (AKA Mystery Frickin’ Island) – ABC’s groundbreaking television series

When people think of Vaughan, however, they’ll primarily think of Y: The Last Man, which was praised upon its release and which has since become a classic of the comic book industry. It’s undoubtedly Vaughan’s seminal work and one which, aided by Pia Guerra’s wonderful art, won’t soon be forgotten.

Agent 355 - Yorick's protector and companion.
Agent 355 – Yorick’s protector and companion.

Why We Love it

An intelligent underlying humour

Yorick – who is a self-proclaimed escape artist who cannot make his rent – holds a cheeky personality and is always ready with an immature but endearing quip. Y: The Last Man is by no means a straight up comedy, but there’s still a slick underlying wit to the narrative that comes from the simplest of places (which is a sign of great writing). Even simple moments like Yorick telling Ampersand: “You and me little buddy… adrift in an ocean of oestrogen” and Ampersand answering: “Er ah ha” have a wonderful elegance to them. Or moments like Yorick’s responding: “Tell it to the adam’s apple!” and pointing at his throat, when accused of being a cross-dresser. All of the humour is sharp and much of it is aptly oriented around gender or sex (which are central themes to this story about the loss of one of the sexes).

True heart and emotional weight

Nothing serves readers better than providing a story with a strong emotional heart to it. As mentioned above, Yorick is charming, endearing and a truly loveable protagonist. The thing that drives him is reuniting with his lost love – Beth DeVille – which is a perfect narrative drive if ever there was one. By the time you reach the comic’s final act (which we won’t spoil), the romantic narrative reaches a new height, in unexpected ways, followed by a horrible and gut-wrenching moment that leaves you devastated. Vaughan expertly toys with the reader’s emotions, in the best of ways, entwining the reader within a narrative that speaks to the heart and sticks in the mind.

Yorick's sister Hero, who joins the Daughters of the Amazon.
Yorick’s sister Hero, who joins the Daughters of the Amazon.

Intriguing SF concepts and acute genre references

Science plays a heavy role in Y: The Last Man. From Dr. Allison Mann being a key member of Yorick’s team, to the core mystery being to find out what it was that killed all of the men and why it didn’t kill Yorick or Ampersand, Vaughan’s comic isn’t afraid to take on complex scientific content. Later on in the comic the subject of clones is broached and we still mark this as one of the best and most memorable explorations of cloning that we’ve seen in any fictional work.

One of the things that we personally adore love most about the comic is the carefully placed sequences that represent Yorick’s fear of losing Beth for good. Each of these is cleverly steeped in different genres. One SF sequence features Yorick and Beth presented as space-faring baster-wielding lovers in the distant future. Another sees Yorick and Beth presented in an early 1900s gangster setting, with Beth as the dame. Yet another sees Beth as a chained maiden and Yorick trying to save her within a fantasy setting. While another sees Beth saving Yorick from a giant ape – in a wonderful reversal of gender roles – as she tears apart her clothes to reveal a super heroine costume underneath. Perhaps our love for Beth DeVille plays a big part in this, but we adore all of these throwback genre references.

Will We Ever See an Adaptation?

The TV show Chuck borrowed its entire feel and style from Y: The Last Man, openly paying homage to the comic within certain episodes of the show. Just like the comic, the character of Chuck Bartowski (played by Zachary Levi, who has expressed an interest in playing Yorick if a straight adaptation should ever happen) has a constant witty outlook and is protected by an accomplished spy (Sarah), whom he falls in love with (just like Yorick, with Agent 355). While by no means a direct adaptation, all of these components are pulled directly from Vaughan’s comic, creating, in a round about way, the closest thing to a Y: The Last Man adaptation that we’ve ever seen or might ever see.

The TV show Chuck paying homage to Y: The Last Man by having Chuck Bartowski read the graphic novel in the episode titled ‘Chuck Versus the Nacho Sampler’.

The comic has notoriously circled various near adaptations and has lingered in development Hell. New Line Cinema held the rights in 2007 and D. J. Caruso was set to direct, but that fell through, with Caruso stating: “I didn’t think that you could take Yorick’s story and put it in to a two-hour movie and do it justice… I just feel like it’s too much for one screenplay.” And he’s right – in our opinion it shouldn’t be a film, due to the limitations of the run time.

In 2011 a Portuguese short film was made, as a loose adaptation of the comic. In 2013, the big studios tried again, this time with Dan Trachtenberg directing. On this producer David S. Goyer stated that they had “a script that’s as close as it’s ever been,” but again, the project fell through.

In October 2015 there struck news of Y: The Last Man being turned into a TV show, which was brilliant move (more time to tell the story). Vaughan himself was involved (as he has been throughout many of these failed attempts) and was quoted stating that the project was “very slowly coming to life. No news I can share, other than that it’s all chugging along happily.” There were news articles published in the first quarter of 2016 that reported of the project going well, before it appears to have yet again fallen away into nothing.

We hope that – with classic comics like Preacher and even classic novels like Roadside Picnic getting the TV treatment – one day soon Y: The Last Man will break this cycle and finally arrive, as a strong adaptation in capable hands. Until then we can only keep re-reading Vaughan’s masterpiece, with an ever-growing love, and envisioning how it might play out on the small screen. If you haven’t read Y: The Last Man, trust us – it’s one of those often talked about and much lauded comics that actually lives up to the hype and doesn’t disappoint. Try it for yourself and you just might come away as in love as we are.

Are you a fan of Y: The Last Man? Who would you like to see cast in the pivotal roles if a TV show did happen? Let us know in the comment section below.

Image credits: Vertigo


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